November 23, 2018 The Little Stranger (Movie Review)
Tragedy surrounds one stunning estate in the British countryside in the brand new Irish/UK film production The Little Stranger, which arrives to DVD/Blu-ray on Tuesday, November 27, 2018, thanks to Focus Features and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 2010, Ex Machina 2014) still holds the memories of his very first glimpse of the elegant Ayres family, along with his first trip to Hundreds Hall, close to his heart. Then, he was just a little boy from a lower-class family visiting for a day of celebrations. Now, in 1949, he is a successful doctor, called to the dilapidated Warwickshire estate to treat an ailing young maid, Betty (Liv Hill: Jellyfish 2018, The Fight 2018). Fortunately, it quickly becomes obvious that Betty is not actually ill, but rather spooked by working in the massive, lonely house.
Having made the acquaintance of family head Roderick Ayres (Will Poulter: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 2010, The Maze Runner 2014) upon his initial visit, Faraday is soon called back to treat the injured veteran. A former serviceman with the Royal Air Force (RAF), Rod is badly burned and scarred, with a severe limp and chronic pain from his injuries. He hides away in the relative safety of Hundreds Hall, treating his sorrows with alcohol. Dr. Faraday proposes an experimental treatment to help ease the pain in his legs, and it instantly boosts the quality of Rod’s life. But all is not perfect!
Thankful for Faraday’s kindness and knowledge, the remaining members of the Ayres family – Rod’s sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson: Jane Eyre 2006, Luther series) and their mother (Charlotte Rampling: Never Let Me Go 2010, 45 Years 2015) – befriend the doctor and welcome him into their fold. Now a regular at the estate he once coveted, Faraday begins to assimilate himself into life in the Ayres home, slowly developing a fixation on single Caroline. Unfortunately, one evening, tragedy strikes during a dinner party and this seems to tip off a series of dramatic events that rock the Ayres clan off their already precarious foundation. As the misfortunes surrounding the family begin to mount while curious occurrences increase throughout the home, some will begin to wonder if there is a poltergeist haunting the property or is hysteria merely causing the family’s psychological frailty? In short, is this madness or the supernatural and who will survive to tell the tale of Hundreds Hall?
Clocking in at 111 minutes in-length, The Little Stranger was directed by the superbly-talented Lenny Abrahamson (Frank 2014, Room 2015) and was written by Lucinda Coxon (The Crimson Petal and the White mini-series, The Danish Girl 2015), based off the 2009 novel of the same name by Sarah Waters. It also features Harry Hadden-Paton (La Vie en Rose 2007, Downton Abbey series) as Dr. Granger; Anna Madeley (In Bruges 2008, The Crucible 2014) as Anne Granger; Dixie Egerickx (The Watcher in the Woods 2017, Patrick Melrose series) as Gillian; Camilla Arfwedson (The Duchess 2008, Inspector Lewis series) as Young Mrs. Ayres; Tipper Seifert-Cleveland (Call the Midwife series, Krypton series) as Susan Ayres; Oliver Zetterström (The Romanoffs series) as Young Faraday; and many more talented cast and crew.
The Little Stranger is one of those wonderfully-crafted, multi-layered period pieces that blends multiple genres to create an original offering. Here, Drama, Horror and Mystery meld together to paint a landscape that is heavy on the dramatics and opacities, with some suggested haunting elements. This is not, however, a gratuitous splashing of blood and guts or a CGI-laden poltergeist tale, no. This is a film that believes that less is spookier, while it revels in its own ambiguity; which is to say that some will come to the conclusion that is intended, while others will wander off into a myriad of other interpretations of the film.
Interestingly, the initial presumption for a student of history would be that this is supposed to be historical fiction offering about British scientist Michael Faraday, who invented the Faraday cage in the late 1800s. However, this is not the case: this Dr. Faraday merely shares a name with the former fellow. As the film’s Faraday, Gleeson gives a commendable performance as a man who has lived his life chasing a childhood glory, and who wishes so dearly to infiltrate the ranks of the Ayres family that, when the doors open to him, the course of his life is seriously altered. Without giving too much away, Gleeson is intense in his delivery of the young doctor, creating a character who is believable and trustworthy in the viewers’ eyes.
Likewise, Wilson’s Caroline is a well-off woman who is still down on her luck, a perfectly sympathetic character. With her brother’s health struggles and her mother’s accelerated age, much of the weight of Hundreds Hall is resting upon Caroline’s shoulders. Wilson portrays her with an effortless grace that also shows the cracks in her façade, creating a well-rounded character who is clearly struggling to keep herself smiling as her world crumbles around her. Poulter’s Roderick is troubled, somewhat bitter, a man who is struggling to keep himself afloat in a home that he believes is cursed. Along with Rampling and Hill (as Betty), the entire ensemble cast give phenomenal performances in their myriad roles, all providing an important piece of this engaging puzzle and doing so with an elegant flawlessness.
The Little Stranger is a truly engaging, intelligent take on a haunted house, one that provides gorgeous scenery and a beautifully subtle Classical score (Stephen Rennicks: Frank 2014, Room 2015). Again, there are multiple ways to interpret the film – be it supernatural, psychological, or beyond – and that is part of the joy of The Little Stranger. Here, the use of period and the utilization of an estate as almost being a character in its own right, make for a film that feels, in the most generalized sense, something like Downton Abbey meets The Shining. The key is in the film’s title – but take away from this filmic piece of art what you will. Engaging, intelligent, beautifully wrought and continuing to prove that the Irish (and Brits) do film best, The Little Stranger is a must see. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give The Little Stranger 4.5 of 5 stars.